Photography ... astronomy ... art ... design ... technology
(... and the odd rant)

All of these make my world go 'round, to some extent, and they will all be found here at some time or other. Some of the photography can be purchased from my Redbubble site. I can also be found at Tempus Fugit (no longer being updated).

Monday, December 10, 2007


I've been away, speaking figuratively. Same desk, same PC, different bit of cyberspace. RedBubble, it seems, is somewhat addictive. However, I do have a life beyond it, and part of that life encompasses astronomy from time to time.

In doing a bit of research for a talk last week, I came across
Galazy Zoo. This is an online project that encourages people to assist with the massive task of classifying distant galaxies. As the site says, it's a: "project which harnesses the power of the internet - and your brain - to classify a million galaxies. By taking part, you'll not only be contributing to scientific research, but you'll view parts of the Universe that literally no-one has ever seen before and get a sense of the glorious diversity of galaxies that pepper the sky."

Well, I just went back to that site to look a bit further, and ended up registering. That process led me very quickly through the tutorial & test, and straight on to the work itself. No fuss, no ceremony, no tedious application or PhD thesis, just lots of pictures, as fast as I could work through them. And therein, I think, may lie the success of this project: as soon as you've done one, another image appears. Well, you can't possibly leave that one, so you do it. Then, there's another - which will only take a second or 2 - and then ... and so on. Oh, go on, just one more, it might be an interesting one. Here's a screen grab:

And so, obsession rears its ugly head once more. Have a go, you might enjoy it!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Lovely bubbly

I'm a RedBubbler now; discovered the site a few days ago, and have just started uploading images. I've been looking for an online outlet for a while, and this seems to be a good one. Check out the images and leave a comment.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Twinkle, twinkle

Sitting in the car tonight, waiting for my daughter, I opened the window and looked skyward. A beautiful night, warm, with as many stars as one would expect, this close to a sizeable regional town, and a crescent moon high in the west. A typical scene, yes? Well, it is here, Down Under (notwithstanding the wet season's first substantial cloud-bounty). However, I was taken back to my first experience of Australian skies, after first arriving here from Scotland 20 years ago. I was captivated. Not surprising, giving that I'd left a freezing northern land in January, complete with snow-turned-to-ice on the ground, and embarked on a delightful sojourn (it was supposed to be work, but was too much fun for that to be relevant) to the sub-tropical antipodes.

From 0° C to 40° C in the space of about 5 days, was quite a change. Temperature is just physics though; it required some adjustment, but it was what it was: hotter than I'd ever imagined. The sky however, was something else. Seeing Sirius nearly overhead, its brightness undimmed by the low altitude of a Scottish viewpoint, was the first thing of note. The second remarkable thing was that this scene was to be observed night after night - such that, after 2 months of unremitting sunshine and blue Rayleigh scattering, I was delighted to see a cloudy sky for a change. Anyone accustomed only to the perpetually grey skies of Britain would probably find that hard to imagine...

Back to tonight: it's easy to become blasé about the beauty of the sky, when it's always there, being ... beautiful. And even as an amateur astronomer of some 35-40 years, I am as affected by that as anyone else, and need to take a longer second look sometimes. Having said all that, what appeals so much about the night sky here - at least, between spring and autumn - is the fact that the whole experience is so damed comfortable. I don't have to put on 3 inches of insulation, before heading out to discover that it has now clouded over. There is such a sense of blissful relaxation to be had, looking at distant beacons gliding ever so slowly overhead, while crickets, cicadas etc sing their song.

I have to admit though: I'd exchange a few of these balmy, almost unchanging nights for a few displays of aurora under a crisp heaven with fiercely-twinkling stars. Of all the sights in nature, there can be few as awesome as the northern (or southern) lights. With that thought, here's a pic taken some years ago: a green rayed band over the orange glow of Edinburgh. It's a sight I will never tire of.

Image copyright © Duncan Waldron, 1992. All rights reserved.

Sunday, November 11, 2007


It seems I have a minor - but possibly growing - obsession with a hydrangea. We have one in a large pot on the back verandah, which is enjoying exuberant growth. It was somewhat abused a couple of years ago, being fairly sunburned and drought-afflicted. After being moved to a better spot and being treated more tenderly though, it is thriving once again.

I am drawn towards it with camera in hand; there's something about the leaf shape and texture that is so appealing: well-defined veins and bold serrations, with a satisfying sheen on at least some of the leaves. There is also a slightly unruly quality to the leaves, with unexpected twists and curls. The pink flowers, pretty though they are, don't interest me so much; possibly because I am inclined to render the images in monochrome, and they don't present enough of a graphic form to be worthwhile. Maybe I should take another look, and see if I can create a pleasing image from them as well. I might surprise myself.

Images Copyright Duncan Waldron 2007. All rights reserved.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Look what I found

I have spent several days, on and off, tidying my home office. It was in desperate need of it, for 2 reasons: 1, I am perpetually under-organised; 2, I have just moved the contents of an external office into the home, which made the floor disappear. Today was substantially the culmination of the process, in that it now looks organised, and ready for business. Indeed, SWMBO came in a few hours ago and said "what's that?"
"It's a piece of MDF", I replied.
"No, that," she insisted, waving her hand over the empty space (specifically, a desktop covered with said MDF).
Ah, yes, empty space. I have been the proud possessor of such a thing from time to time, but it invariably fills up with all manner of detritus as soon as my back is turned.

I realised some time ago that paper is the bane of my life. Copy paper, printed paper, brochures, forms, magazines, interesting snippets, etc etc... Once I had come to that realisation, I felt I had at least taken a step forward. Realising it was one thing though, dealing with it was another.

This time it will be different. I will be the master, and paper will be my servant; on call for when I need it, and despatched when I don't. It will be ephemeral, discarded on a whim, and only retained if it will serve a purpose. This will begin tomorrow, when my new assistant starts work ... a ruthlessly efficient filing system, coupled with In/Out trays that actually function as they are supposed to.

Tomorrow is a bright new morn...

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Fascinating books (that I haven't yet read)

I like to catch the Book Show on ABC Radio National, when I can. It's a usually a welcome retreat from daily life. Today I listened while waiting in the car outside Spotlight, as SWMBO picked up supplies for a current magazine project. I'm not, I confess, a real outdoor person, although I do like the idea of being so. Today's guest, Robert MacFarlane, was discussing his new book The Wild Places. Not only was the subject of interest, but Robert was a pleasantly modest, gracious and engaging interviewee. His brief tales of 'night walking' along a ridge of hard snow and ice by moonlight, and the holloways of Dorset – among others – were quite thought-provoking. The transcript is here. A New Statesman review of the book is here.

14 May 2008 update: the current issue of Orion Magazine has an article here.

Another transcript that sounds interesting is from Monday's show, which included The history of virginity with Hanne Blank. Dare I look forward to The history of the loss of virginity...?

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The tangled web

Dictionaries & the WWW: I love how you can go looking for one thing, and end up somewhere totally different, if you're of a mind to follow the path. It kind of fits in with the sentiment that we should "chase wild geese - that's what they're for."

This evening, I went looking for the history behind the ISO 'A' format paper sizes, following a discussion with a local artist today. I felt it was probably had some ancient British or German origin, which just happened to translate to the strange 297x210mm for A4 (etc). Turns out it is connected with old German & French thoughts on the merit of a format in which the ratio of the 2 sides of the sheet is 1:[square root of 2]. This allows a sheet to be folded in 2, and still be the same shape. Markus Kuhn says this:

"One of the oldest written records regarding the sqrt(2) aspect ratio for paper sizes is a letter that the physics professor Georg Christoph Lichtenberg (University of Göttingen, Germany, 1742-1799) wrote 1786-10-25 to Johann Beckmann. In it, Lichtenberg explains the practical and aesthetic advantages of the sqrt(2) aspect ratio, and of his discovery that paper with that aspect ratio was commonly available at the time. (There are also suggestions that the task to find a paper format that is similar to itself after being cut in half appeared as a question in mathematics exams as early as 1755.)"

However, James wondered how they arrived at an odd number like 297mm, which doesn't multiply to a nice round number. The answer is simple, and logical - from a metric viewpoint: A0 is one square metre, or very nearly so (with the 1:[square root of 2] ratio). Everything follows from there. Here endeth the lesson.

The point of this is that, having gone in search of old technology, I stumbled across someting very much of the present, a Flash animation. The front page of this site has a mesmeric animated mandala, and the succeeding page has an equally fascinating linear array. Both are affected by movement of the cursor with the the bounds of the graphic. Have a go:

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Beautiful woodwork

We took a run down to the Old Butter Factory in Bellingen yesterday. It's a collection of craft retail outlets covering a wide variety of creative endeavours. I'd seen a notice about a new fibrecraft exhibition there, and wanted to see what was on show (moreover, I thought Heather would enjoy it). There were some very nice exhibits, including one or two I'd like to buy.

What stopped me in my tracks though, was a piece in the woodwork gallery. This shop always has a variety of work, from small nick-nacks, to larger pieces like dining tables. On this occasion, Bim Morton, whose work I have admired before, had a beautiful dresser that is almost exactly what I want in my study when we build our house — except I want it to cover a whole wall.

Constructed from Blue Gum, this was a fairly simple cupboard topped with a bookshelf/display cabinet with glazed doors. The design was a perfect blend of simple elegance with individual finishing touches that my words cannot possibly do justice. For example, the door handles were hand-carved from the same piece of timber they were 'attached to'; both handles coming together in a central rose-like scroll motif. The doors themselves were prevented from banging shut by damped pistons, which allow them to close
gently, even if you give the doors a firm shove to close. If you've even seen an S-class Mercedes pulling its doors shut when you didn't quite close them firmly enough, you'll be able to imagine these doors closing — with calm, refined restraint.

Deep joy.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Now there's an idea

I spent a number of years chasing innovative ideas, prototyping a few, bringing one to market and another almost there. It was an exciting and frustrating time, and after about six years of it, thought I'd managed to leave it all behind for sanity, but over a meal recently had a real 'light bulb' moment. That this moment was shared and more importantly, enthused over, by my other half, gives me hope that I might be onto to something here.

I'll need to tread carefully with the idea, as I don't want to be ripped off again, as we were a couple of years ago, by a large national semi-governmental organisation. After 18 months in development, that hurt. But, their lawyer was bigger than ours, and we had to let it go and watch while they introduced almost exactly the system we had proposed. So, I shall seek better counsel than before (no, not better - in fairness to my colleagues - just possibly more informed or focused), and see if I can turn the rough diamond into a real sparkler. Watch this space!

Friday, October 12, 2007

CD 'gramophone'

This is beautiful. Last year, I bought a gramophone kit, which was supposed to record on to old CDs, or any other smooth, rigid surface; it didn't work. Here's a new approach: play a CD, on what looks like a slimmed-down wooden gramophone. Eat your heart out, S*ny!

By bringing back a familiar nostalgic form of a phonograph, the design seeks transport the user back to the golden age of phonographs in early 1900s where sound broadcasting had a magical feel.

 blog it

Thursday, October 11, 2007

What's In A Name, Mate?

A Sideways Glance at the Hidden Meaning of Aussie Place Names

There are many place names around the world that cry out to tell you their true meaning. Well, perhaps not their ridgey didge true meaning, but who has ever looked at the name Footscray and not felt that it probably also exists as an entry in a medical dictionary? Or Patchewollock, or Humpty Doo? Exactly. Furthermore, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of things, situations, personality types, events, etc, which have no adequate name. What do you call the person who cheerfully ignores the lane markers on a roundabout or motorway, then drives on, blissfully unaware that you have only just avoided having your wing and door remodelled? No – apart from that... While !&%#&*!!?! will do, there is an even better choice to be found somewhere, on the signposts of this great nation.

It is now time for Australia to step forward, and lend some of its magnificent place names to the great cause of the "unnamed definition".

(I can assure the reader that any place names that follow are genuine, existing somewhere in the "wide brown land" that is Australia.)

Aberfeldy n

The ungainly stumble performed by a novice attempting any form of Scottish country dancing for the first time, when he goes the opposite direction to everyone else and tries to correct the mistake. cf Acland.

Note: I am keen to draw the reader's attention to the fact that no disrespect at all is intended towards any place whose name is featured in this work. All the disrespect is aimed squarely at the annoying prats, frustrating situations, etc, to which those names have been assigned, pro tempore.

Why? II

Why is it that you can make a cup of tea (or coffee), absent-mindedly forget it's tea (or coffee), and - now thinking you are having coffee (or tea) - get an unpleasant surprise when it tastes nasty? What does that say about our perception of taste? Does it mean that we can be happy with anything, as long as we think it's something else?

I was once given a mug of something that I think was coffee, but which was so appalling in flavour, and disgustingly sweet into the bargain, that I just had to tell myself that it was some entirely new and different beverage, nothing to do with coffee at all. This seemed to work, and I was able to drink it OK. I wouldn't want to do it often though...

Long black

I came to coffee relatively late in life, having been mainly a quaffer of tea. An occasional cup of N**cafe was had - and even enjoyed - for a few years, then I met my life partner (SWMBO - she who must be obeyed), and was introduced to the real thing. I was also introduced to quality (Twinings) tea - for which I am grateful.

In those days, tea was brewed strong, and, like coffee, was taken with plenty of milk. Having discovered an intolerance to milk a few years ago, tea then became weak and black (OK, mid-brown), and coffee disappeared from the menu. I had once tried black coffee when there was nothing else available, and found it to be a foul substance. Lack of sugar didn't help.

Before I abandoned mlik, I developed an affection for a weekend cappucino or mocha. I had to be in the mood for it though; I was unlikely to have it in the morning, and it had to be reasonably good coffee. The main attraction was sharing a quiet cuppa in pleasant surroundings with SWMBO, which remains with me still.

Having done without the roasted bean for a few years, I decided to try it black again, and found that if I took it weak, it was palatable. I'm gradually coming to tolerate a stronger cup, but it does depend on who makes it. I'm no connoisseur, by any stretch of the imagination, but I am fussy about having a good brew. I swapped notes recently with a client, and found we shared a preference for the same coffee-houses. One in particular (named Cocoa, as it happens), makes coffee that I can take full strength - which makes me wonder: does everyone else find it weak, or is it just that an excellent brew doesn't need to be weak? I do ask for a wee jug of hot water, just to make the cup go further, but it's not necessary. It seems to have a more rounded flavour, as if it's coffee with a dash of chocolate in it, or something. The only downside to this particular establishment is that the serves are smaller than elsewhere, but I forgive them, as long as they keep up the quality.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Comet Encke fishtailing across the sky

In this delightful time-lapse image from NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day, the tail of short-period comet Encke can be seen flailing about in the solar wind.

Go to for the animation. The comet is small (it orbits the sun about every 3 years, so has lost a lot of its mass over time), but the sequence is quite fascinating – normally, a comet is so slow-moving that you need to watch carefully for hours or days, to see any change. On this occasion, the wonders of time-lapse have saved you the wait.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

The fun world of sewing machines - Part II

Well, I managed to remove the coil from the circuit board, and rewind it. Not quite as it was originally, but a pretty good attempt, and better than I'd feared it might be. That just left the soldering back in place. I'm not known for my soldering skills; I know that dry joints are bad news, but haven't the faintest idea how you might cause one* - and therefore, how to avoid causing one. Add to this, the only soldering iron in the house is one designed for leadlight work, so to say it's a tad larger (and probably hotter) than required is a bit of an understatement. No matter, it's an old circuit board, with just a few widely-spaced basic components, so the chance of damaging something else is fairly slim. Apply iron ... dab solder ... hey presto! A nice shiny blob of solder, exactly where it's meant to be. Now, the other wire, then screw the whole lot back together. Plug it in, attach to Elna ... wonderful, it works again. Great relief, cup of tea to celebrate.

Now what can I fix next?

* I looked this up after the event, and found that my meagre knowledge was enough to make sure I did all the right things. I don't see a career in it, though!

Monday, October 1, 2007

In the third dimension

Something I've dabbled with for a long time, is 3D photography. When I was studying applied photography, it was one topic that really grabbed my attention. I've yet to do something really dramatic with it, but - having been asked to mount an exhibition at one of the local art galleries - it's just a matter of time.

One of the earliest exponents of photography (then Astronomer Royal for Scotland, Charles Piazzi Smyth) was quick to tackle the 3D world, and created stereo pairs in various locations as far apart as Egypt and Russia. So, I follow in illustrious footsteps. In fact, one of the more pleasant tasks during my time as photographer at the Royal Observatory Edinburgh, was to help with the production of an exhibition of some of CPS's work. It was certainly a fun change to the usual drab observatory work, and the resulting show was a delight to behold - and a pleasure to be associated with.

If I'm honest, I've only dabbled with 3D, in that I haven't produced a great body of work; however, I have managed to get some out-of-the-ordinary images, such as are not generally captured by those photographers still working in 3D. It is that sort of image that I would intend to include in the exhibition. And what sort is that? All will out, in due course...

Meanwhile, here's a taster that I took while visiting Stonehenge in 1997. It wasn't taken under the best of circumstances, but does give an impression of what the monument is really like. You need to use the crossed-eyes method, to view it properly (cross your eyes until you see 3 images, and the middle one should be in 3D). If you can't manage it, sorry... Warning: if you click through to the larger image, sit back fom the screen a bit, to avoid getting a headache from severe eye-crossing!

Image copyright © Duncan Waldron 1997, All rights reserved.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

The fun world of sewing machines

My wife's beloved Elna SU suffered a hiccup last week, and in the course of this being investigated by an expert, it transpired that a wire was broken in the foot. The expert had not fixed this, advising that 'it could be done, but it would take a lot of time' (& therefore a lot of money) to fix it.

Not one to be beaten by such a situation, I opened up the foot to see what the problem was. Sure enough, just a wee wire broken, as it enters the casing of a sizeable coil. I shall attempt to repair it, but the trouble is, the break is obviously right in the centre of the coil, so I will have to completely unwind it to fix it. If I don't succeed, there's no loss, as it certainly doesn't work now, but I will be somewhat disappointed if I can't do what's necessary. I've done battle with our washing machine twice now (there is no service agent for domestic Zanussi machines in Oz), so a wee coil should be but a small challenge ... I hope!

The fun world of HTML

I've been creating HTML, off and on, for more than 7 years now, and thought I had a reasonable grasp of it. Today though, I've been defeated in the process of trying to send out an email containing an existing HTML file, compete with CSS. It more or less works, but the CSS information doesn't get through. I've sent out an SOS, so hope to have the answer in a day or so.

I could just create it in the email client, but want to do this as a monthly newsletter, so will work from an HTML template (at least, that's the plan).

Think I'll go and read the book du jour.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Low-tech photography

Someone said to me yesterday, "what's pinhole photography?" So, with that as a prompt, here's a couple from the files. First a very literal - albeit panoramic - image:

The Royal Observatory, Edinburgh. Copyright © Duncan Waldron, 1998. All rights reserved.

This was taken with a shoebox camera; literally, a shoebox, with a pinhole in one long side, and a long piece of film curving around opposite the pinhole. It gives a nice, straight, rendition of straight lines, around a very wide angle (about 155°). How does it work? Simple - light comes in through the pinhole, in a straight line, and hits the film opposite. Where it hits, it makes an image of whatever was exactly opposite the pinhole, outside the camera.

The second image was taken slightly differently, using a cardboard mailing tube, with a sheet of printing paper inside it. Same principle, but the geometry is different, hence funny curvy lines.

The City Observatory, Edinburgh. Copyright © Duncan Waldron, 1998. All rights reserved.

At its simplest, pinhole photography is just that - punch a hole in tin foil with a pin, and take a picture. You can do it with a normal SLR camera (with the lens replaced by the tinfoil), but the results will be a bit fuzzy. I tend to be a bit particular, and make a pinhole as near perfect as possible, and precisely the right size for the camera. But that's just me, pedantic as ever.

I'm interested in the number of finely-crafted pinhole cameras available these days - often lovely wood and brass. I have a notion to create one of my own, based upon an experiment a few years ago. It will be a challenge to create what I have in mind, but Rome wasn't built in a day, so if I just get started on the task, it might hit the market one day. Will there still be film available to put inside it then? That's another matter entirely!

There's nothing worse

Don't you love it when someone says, "there's nothing worse..."? Invariably – and I DO mean invariably – they are talking about something pretty trivial. Not enough rice for the biriyani, smudged lippie when you're running late, or catching a hangnail 3 times in 5 minutes: these are apparently serious matters that cause all others to pale into insignificance. Things like bowel cancer, third-world famine and fundamentalist terrorism seem to be blithely pushed to one side, while the trauma of the moment sits in the limelight.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

To be, or not...

Is it nobler in the mind (or the wallet) to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageously badly-paid (but promising) employment, or with a new vision of something (some things) possibly better, jack it in and move one? It's a vexed question, especially as giving up the former means waiting several months to be paid. Acute cramp to the wallet! – but much more time to give to the other projects, and perhaps actually give them full attention and do them justice. Oh, for a crystal ball (or maybe just tea leaves with a USB connection). Yes, you heard it here first – cyber tea leaves, for an instant online reading.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Fooling around with images

From time to time, I'll open an image in Paint Shop Pro (or create something from scratch using areas of colour/black/white), and then mangle and manipulate it to see what comes out the other end. I have something of a fascination for tiling images, seeing what, if anything, is the effect of a repeating motif.

Made this one a while back, and found it again today. Can't remember how I started, but probably just an array of dots.

Image copyright © 2007 Duncan Waldron. All rights reserved.


Why does a dictionary need to contain a definition for the word 'dictionary'?

Why do TV shows need to be announced as 'all new'? Are there any that have random old bits in them? Maybe the new Doctor Who could be momentarily supplanted by Jon Pertwee or Tom Baker, without any explanation.

Why does my daughter remember, in tedious detail, any conversation she has had or any disparaging remark directed at her by schoolmates, yet 2 + 5 takes a second or 2 to recall?

Friday, September 21, 2007

Digital mini Rolleiflex

Is this brilliant, or what? Classics like this are too young to die under the electronic onslaught. It won't provide quite the same satisfaction as holding the full-size real thing, but retro-cool outweighs that. It's just a pity they couldn't have managed at least 5 megapixels.

Full story at
clipped from
Here is a camera that not only collectors will get excited about but also the 'gadget' market and anybody fascinated by miniaturization. In co-operation with the Rollei company, MINOX makes available the smallest fully operating Rolleiflex in the world. The "Rolleiflex MiniDigi" is a digital camera with the same shape and design as the famous 6x6 twin lens reflex camera with a resolution of up to 3.1 million pixels. This unique miniature Rolleiflex is added to the successful 8x11mm film and 'Leica' digital classic collection camera series from MINOX.

blog it

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Health check

Middle-age spread. Is it good for you? Can you get it with plant sterols, to actively reduce cholesterol? Or should we just avoid it altogether, and stick with good old butter? It's a worry.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Great oaks

We have our own quercus – transported as a Glen Innes acorn, to become a Coffs Harbour oak. It loafed around for a while, doing nothing obvious, but a few weeks ago burst into new and thrusting life, and now sports 7 magnificent wavy-edged leaves on a small and spindly, but proudly straight stem (probably too early to call it a trunk).

30th August

16th September
So there it was - an eager, youthful, autumnal blush, now settling down to a sensible spring green. It's not clear that there are any more leaves on the way, so we'll see what next week brings.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

A day in the life...

Attended an exhibition opening tonight - '365 Happy Days' by James P Gilmour. Interesting show: the artist is creating an exhibit based upon 1 work per day, inspired by – whatever happened to him that day. As he admits, it's a large undertaking; walking in and seeing 140 framed pics, tightly bunched on 3 walls, it's quite an effect in itself. Looking at the works themselves, it's clear I'll need a while to take them all in.

First impression? The man's got a lot of stuff in his head, and yet some days, a work is created on the flimsiest of notions. Some images really resonated with me (day 42, below), while others (unsurprisingly for such a vast and quickfire body of work) left me unmoved – or just bemused.

Image copyright © 2007, James P Gilmour. All rights reserved.

I think I'm impressed by James's courage in attempting such a feat; committing to complete the whole 365 days, and showing it part-way through (and day by day on the web); risking being laid low by artist's block, failing to complete and looking foolish – although there's probably little chance of that.

I felt there was an interesting resemblance, in some of the 'portraits', to drawings in Raymond Briggs's books (e.g. When the wind blows). I think this exhibition will grow on me.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Flash bang wallop ... what a picture

Haven't had a good thunderstorm for a while. Coming from a country where thunderstorms are infrequent and less than dramatic, I enjoy those that entertain us Down Under. There is always a desire to get the camera out, and capture a winning shot. I'm not a storm chaser, hell-bent on driving great distances in pursuit of the action, so tend to take the opportunity when it occurs on my doorstep (literally...), or within a few km. Sawtell headland is a favourite destination, and I'm not alone in that. The last big one that I went out for, there was quite a crowd in attendance, watching the display. Better than the goggle-box.

Photos © Duncan Waldron. All rights reserved.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Tempus fugit

It's now tomorrow, but I haven't finished doing yesterday's work. I realised a few years ago that my body clock seemed to be running on a 25-hour cycle. I think that's no longer the case, but I just have too much on my plate. I could stay up for another hour, but it will just catch up with me in the end, so I may as well admit defeat. Not total defeat, for I did get a few things done, just scrappy bits & pieces. At least, that's the way it seems. Maybe I just expect too much.

I was told once that there is a Gaelic equivalent of mañana, but "it doesn't convey the same sense of urgency". Oh, for such an unhurried lifestyle. And all in a 6-day week, with forced rest on the Sabbath. Maybe I'll try it one day – after I've finished everything I have to do. Tick, tock...

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Speak up, man

It's not that I'm going deaf - far from it; it's just that sound isn't so loud these days. All right, I know I don't hear quite as well as when I was 20, but it's not that bad. I've always had a tendency to miss the first word of a sentence, which often makes the rest unintelligible, or at least, nonsensical. The big problem now is the tinnitus, like a constant hiss somewhere just behind me. I don't always notice it, so maybe it isn't always there, but I doubt that's the case.

Used to be, it appeared only after I'd had an evening on the laughing syrup, or a long drive, but now it's a fairly constant companion. Wake up, it's there; go to sleep, it's there. When I first realised it had come to stay, I felt a brief moment of panic: what if it tormented me all night, and I ended up insane? I soon realised that wasn't going to happen, and a visit to the specialist gave the comforting information that it would likely not get worse; on the other hand, there would be little I could do about it.

Fortunately, I don't notice it all of the time; usually, I am too busy concentrating on something, or the background noise is loud enough to block it out, but it's in the quiet moments that I hear it most. I don't care for the thought that I will be missing out on finer nuances of music, but then I never was much of an audiophile. These days, most music is heard while at the PC or in the car – neither of which are ideal environments – the opportunity for sitting just listening with the headphones on doesn't really exist these days (partly because No 1 son has managed to destroy a good Sennheiser set by neglect and abuse). Requests to buy him some new headphones now fall on deaf ears...

In praise of a Weston

Way back when the world was young, and the word papparazzi wasn't even a twinkle in someone's eye, things happened at a slower pace. In the 'olden times', as my daughter might innocently say, there was less urgency to get one thing done and on to the next. A fast computer was someone who could flick through log tables in a flurry of pages, on the way to completion of a Herculean multiplication task. A small quality modern camera was likely to be a Rollei twin-lens reflex or perhaps a Contax rangefinder. A fast lens was around f2.8, and Kodachrome was hot stuff. (Kodachrome remained hot stuff for quite some time afterwards, but that's another story.)

In those peaceful times, there was no such thing as automated exposure control; a photographer had to use judgement and experience to get it right, or revert to using a hand-held light meter, such as a Weston. Almost an institution, the Weston Master was (is) a lovely instrument, with its snug, thick leather case and slim, heavy construction. It wasn't too good in low light – that needed an as-yet-unknown CdS cell – but as long as the needle wasn't bumping the bottom end of the scale, you were in business.

A swinging baffle allowed the large self-powered selenium cell (show me a light meter now that doesn't require batteries) to measure light over a fairly wide brightness range, and in later models a diffuser could be fitted over the cell, to measure the light falling on the subject instead of the reflected light, allowing a more objective exposure measurement. And that was about it. No bells or whistles, no LEDs or thumbwheel-controlled menu. Just a basic tool for no-nonsense, get on with it, photography. Pick it up, point it in the right direction, turn the dial, and there's your answer. Later models did provide a locking button, so that you could hold the measuring needle in place after the reading was taken, but that was about as high-tech as it got.

My Weston Master III doesn't get to see daylight very often these days, but that's all right. Occasionally, a modern light meter's battery fails, and out it comes, dependable as ever, to give me a result when it could otherwise be difficult to get the right exposure. I still like its glossy black enamel and rounded styling; the later silver-grey models with harder lines did little for me. If I'm using a pinhole camera (they don't see much daylight either), the Weston is a very appropriate tool to judge the right exposure: an unhurried measurement for an even more ponderous exposure. Deeply satisfying...

Monday, September 3, 2007

We have the technology; we can rebuild it

Bad news this morning: motherboard &/or CPU on my main PC are dead. Yes, I'll have a faster machine with more RAM, but the timing could have been better; could it not have waited 6 months? At least the data's safe. To compound the problem, the old P-III that I brought in as backup has clearly decided that it didn't like 2007, and chose to pack it in while my back was turned. One minute: I'm checking email; next thing: computus geriatricus has rebooted, but gone no further than the obligatory RAM check. It stubbornly refuses to go any further. Probably time to let it RIP.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Word for the day

I was asked today what my favourite word is. Difficult; I tend not to have favourites; nor do I see much of the world in black and white, just many shades of grey. I settled on whisky – specifically malt whisky but might need to reconsider. Other candidates would include:

  • prosperity
  • wife
  • sleep
  • discumknockerate
I once amused a young colleague when I used the word 'splendid', so perhaps that should be on the list.

I am fond of invented words, but care must be exercised when using them, or the audience can be left behind. Scrabble often brings the opportunity to create Welsh words, when all you have on your tile rest is 6 consonants and one vow-ell...

Being a Scot (at least, I was born there; my heritage is in the Sherwood Forest area), I am wont to use the occasional bit of dialect; not too much, because a Scots accent is bad enough in Australia, without introducing weird words as well. I once watched a bit of
Looking After Jo Jo and was amazed to see subtitles being used, to help Aussie viewers understand the Edinburgh accent. Were the subtitles in English? Were they chook! They were in dialect, so made nae difference at a'. What a laugh!

Within the richness of the Scots tongue can be found such gems as:
  • shoogle - shake
  • tumshie - turnip
  • nyaff - a useless, objectionable, tiresome person
  • skelp - to smack, especially a child's backside ("I'll skelp your dowp!")
I was talking one day to a fellow Scot, in the presence of an Englishman. Jason was talking about the scooshers on his car, and I never gave the word a second thought, until Brian's face contorted in puzzlement; we had to explain that Jason was referring to the windscreen washers. Oh, the joy of secret language ;-)

So, preserve the richness of the spoken word, and use a regional word today.

Phoenix PC

My main PC is dead just now, or perhaps just resting. I took it into the shop yesterday, and left it in the capable hands of Ray. Bearded, sage and with a wicked sense of humour, Ray should be my saviour. The only thing that worries me this time is that the failure to boot was accompanied by a distinct smell of electrical overheating. What got fried? Something easily (and economically) replaceable, I hope. Will the trusty machine, resurrected from the ashes, be as good as before? I hardly dare think about it.

Meanwhile, an old P-III machine has been pressed into service. I've been hanging on to it for ages, thinking it's not worth selling, but too good to throw out. It's good to be a procrastinator, sometimes. I did try to load a new flavour of Linux on to it recently, but as with all previous attempts, was utterly unsuccessful. I may not try again.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Toe in the water

OK, I'm in. The wonderful world of blogging beckoned, and I heeded the call. How far will it go? How long will it last? Will I (or anyone else) regret it?

It's the end of another working week, and quite glad I am. It was a good end, as it happens, not the usual, T-G-I-F, drag myself home, thankful it's all over. I had just lodged the final two loan applications of the month, scoring a new high total. One last phone call and email, and then home for a good meal (home-cooked, as always). Pasta bolognese, with not a mushroom or sprig of rosemary in sight; delicious.

An interesting package was waiting for me, containing the seeds of a new venture; I opened it, placed the wad of pages into the binder, read the first few, and felt a frisson, with the promise of a new direction. I'm looking forward to tackling the work, and doing so in quick time, with dramatic results. Hope I'm not disappointed.

School bored me; I got through it well enough, but never actually enjoyed it. I did, however, enjoy burning my exercise books at the end of 6th year (Year 12, if you are outside Scotland). College was thankfully short on lectures, but those I did have to sit through really challenged my ability to stay awake. The first educational experience that I positively enjoyed was at the age of 37, when I took a week-long course in copy-editing and proof-reading (it's the 'pedantic' gene, you know). The search for perfection in words - I loved it. Still can't read a book or newspaper (or website), without noting extra spaces between words, wrong use of the apostrophe, or any of a myriad misuses of the language. So, my intended new direction ... it involves words and writing, so should feed that part of my psyche which revels in the written form. Will it come to fruition? Time will tell, but I intend to be well on the way by Christmas. I really fancy a New Year worthy of the name, one that heralds a significant change in lifestyle and fortune. Watch this space.

Decent Exposure? Well, you've got to be decent, and you have to expose yourself to life's opportunities. Also, if your photographs are to be any good, you need ... decent exposure. Easy with modern, all-singing, all-dancing, electronic instant feedback digital cameras, but try a pinhole camera; you need to use the old grey matter there - or perhaps a Weston Master III.